Thursday, 4 July 2002

Applause for a Little Girl


This entry again comes to you from York.

I recently returned here from Manchester where I was lucky enough to be a spectator at the some of the sporting and ceremonial events that made up the XVII Commonwealth Games.

That's what I'm going to write about today.

I had an enjoyable few days in Manchester. But it is one memory that stands memory I will treasure and keep forever.

It all began at the opening ceremony of the Games that took place at the newly-built Manchester Stadium on July 25th. I was there with Tony Blair, the Queen and oh about 38,000 other people.

I remember watching BBC television coverage of the 16th Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur back in 1998. I learned then that the next Games would be held in Manchester in four years time and I promised myself that I would be there.

I've promised myself many things over the years and some of those promises have, sadly, been broken. I am a man who sometimes finds it difficult to plan properly and to keep to my word. So I was very happy that I managed to make it to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester as I promised myself I would way back in 1998.

Anyway, I made it to the opening ceremony of the Games as the eyes of five hundred million people fell upon Manchester.

The ceremony itself was pretty damn good. I didn't have a very good view - I couldn't admire any of the female athlete's bottoms or count the Queen's wrinkles - but just being there and being able to soak up the wonderful atmosphere was enough.

There was dancing and music and the flags of around 23 British colonies and the flags of more than fifty former British colonies. There were explosions and fire. There were soldiers and marching, pop acts and men in suits. There was even David Beckham.

There was all of this and then there was one little girl, Kirsty Howard, six years old, born with her heart back to front.

Kirsty Howard has become something of a celebrity in this country thanks to David Beckham, who seems to enjoy a unique and special friendship with this brave little girl.

I knew before I attended the ceremony that Kirsty would be there. What I didn't know was that while I was there I would make a decision. It wasn't an important decision, nor was it a brave decision, but it was a decision nonetheless.

What I decided, simply, was that when Kirsty came into the stadium I would stand up and clap for her. If I can stand up and clap for an athlete or a royal with wrinkles then I can sure as hell stand up for a little girl born with her heart back to front.

So when Kirsty appeared I got to my feet and I started to applaud. For about a minute I was standing alone. Then the lady next to me stood up. Then a few more people got to their feet some rows away. Then some more people. And then a few more. And then, suddenly, magically, this quickly spread around the stadium and soon everyone was standing and applauding this little girl.

I thought then and I still think now that it was me who did that. I will never meet Kirsty, I will never be able to do anything to ease her suffering or soothe her pain, but I could at least help to bring a stadium full of people to their feet for her.

I don't know if Kirsty noticed that she was given a standing ovation. I hope that she did. But the truth is, for me, it didn't matter if anyone else got to their feet or if it was just me.

I was prepared to stand there alone.

So that was the highlight of my visit to Manchester and my highlight of the Commonwealth Games. A few days later I returned to Manchester with Christopher Dion, a young man from New Zealand, and we watched the athletics and the boxing together.

Unfortunately, we missed most of the athletics (and we won't go into the reason for that now, will we Chris!) and we only saw about fifty minutes of the boxing. While watching the boxing match I saw a familiar-looking face in the crowd. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was Prince Edward!

On the whole, I found the whole Commonwealth Games experience to be VERY addictive. Better than any drug I ever tried in my early youth. I've never considered myself to be a sports fan, but the games were seriously cool. There is no comparison to be made between watching a sporting event live and watching it on a little box with an aerial on top.

In fact, I enjoyed it all so much - and was so disappointed at seeing only a bit of the athletics - that I returned to Manchester one last time to watch the cycling final, which was also brilliant.

And so that, for me, was the XVII Commonwealth Games. I'm sure that many thousands of people have other, equally special memories.

Before I bring this entry to an end, I just want to give a mention to two friends of mine who have recently left these shores. The first is Chris, from New Zealand, who I mentioned earlier.

Chris left England yesterday. He's in Singapore now, where he'll be staying for a week before he heads back home. The second person I'd like to mention is my dear friend Urko.

Urko was one of my very first friends in York and our friendship lasted the ten months that he was here. I was lucky enough to spend a very nice day with him a few days before he left to return to Spain. We took a bike ride together on a beautiful, sunny day and came across a farm where we spent an hour picking strawberries. Later we visited a Chinese restaurant with our friend, Cesar, and ended the day by eating the strawberries we had collected.

It was a very nice day and one that I'm glad I could spend with Urko. He's travelling now and I want to send him my very best wishes. Take care of yourself my friend - and now you're famous!

And that's it for this Commonwealth Games blog entry.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, the second of my blog entries. Take care of yourself and stay well. Take care Kirsty.


From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.